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By definition, a construct in Personal Construct Psychology is a way of seeing two or more things or persons as similar, and at the same time different from the third. It is an abstraction whereby people make discriminations among the events that they encounter in their daily lives. Constructs then become the basis for predictions about current and future experiences and, thereby, channel behavior in particular directions.

Constructs are based on an individual’s life-time of discriminations and, as such, are idiosyncratic, varying from person to person (individuality). Kelly (1955) proposed that every construct was bipolar (e.g. good vs. bad) because it encompasses both the awareness of similarity and awareness of difference. This can be illustrated by comparison to the notion with which "construct" is sometimes confused, the term "concept" in traditional logic. The opposite of a concept is formed by adding the prefix "not" to the existing word (e.g. the opposite of man is not-man). By contrast, the opposite of a construct is determined by the use of the relevant contrast which gives this whole bipolar dimension its specific meaning (e.g. for one person the opposite of man is woman, which gives this dimension the meaning relevant to gender difference; for another the opposite of man is God, which encompasses the relates to divinity, and yet for another person the opposite of man is child, which gives the meaning of maturity to the whole dimension). Therefore, the meaning of any construct is not determined by one of its poles, but by the dialectical relationship between them, with each essential to the meaning to the other.
There are several commonly made errors concerning constructs. First there is the assumption that they are words. When we engage in construct elicitation we most commonly obtain verbal markers of the discriminations that are being made, but these words are not synonymous with the discrimination. Constructs may be non-verbal (see preverbal constructs), as in the discriminations of young infants or when one pole of the construct may not be readily accessed (submergence). Further, a construct is not the mere representation of existing entities. Rather it is the result of the imposition of meaning on raw sensory experiences, which would otherwise be too homogenous to allow for effective prediction of events. As such it is a creation, not the automatic reflection of reality.

The term construct in PCP carries a different meaning to the same term in mainstream psychology - where it is used to refer to an entity which is ascribed to more than one object as a result of previous scientific investigation.


Dušan Stojnov

Establ. 2003
Last update: 15 February 2004